Julie Chavez Rodriguez, President Biden’s campaign manager, strategized a comprehensive national reelection endeavor during her initial months on the job. She accomplished this while occupying a borrowed office with a view of an Amtrak commuter line on Capitol Hill.
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Operating with a mere three additional paid staff members, her entire operation incurred a cost of $1.4 million from April through June. This amount is approximately one-eighth of the expenses incurred by President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in the equivalent period of 2011. During that time, Obama’s campaign operated from an impressive office suite in Chicago, nearly the size of a football field.
According to Biden aides, the streamlined approach is not a weakness but a deliberate plan.
While the official campaign office is yet to be established, the machinery working to reelect Biden is operating at full capacity, involving hundreds of staffers from various entities such as the national Democratic Party, state affiliates, outside groups, and the White House. They are implementing a comprehensive strategy aimed at leveraging changes in campaign finance regulations.
Julie Chavez Rodriguez refers to this approach as a “new playbook,” which takes advantage of a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that relaxed donation limits for wealthy individuals. It also incorporates valuable lessons learned from the challenges faced during the covid-affected 2020 campaign.
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“The partnership has been unique and historic,” she remarked about her campaign’s relationship with the Democratic National Committee, whose offices she has been using while the campaign has yet to establish an official headquarters. “Efficiency is going to be important to us.”
This differs significantly from the previous Democratic presidential reelection campaign, as Biden’s operation will not resemble Obama’s large Chicago-based corporation. Instead, a significant portion of Biden’s campaign is being outsourced to the DNC and state party organizations, along with support from outside groups. The total budget for this combined effort is estimated to reach up to $2 billion by November 2024.
Due to changes in campaign finance rules, Biden’s campaign can now receive much larger individual contributions than Obama’s campaign ever could. This joint strategy allows Biden to solicit larger checks from wealthy donors, reaching requests of over $900,000 for each of the next two years compared to the $6,600 limit for direct contributions to a presidential campaign.
These substantial donations are now funding tasks that were previously handled by candidates and campaigns. Recent fundraisers, raising $72 million for Biden, were primarily organized by DNC staffers rather than the Biden campaign itself. Out of this amount, only about $20 million directly went to the campaign, while the remainder was allocated to party accounts.
In addition to building a digital field operation and training TikTok “social ambassadors,” national party officials have been funding polling, research, and message testing to support the Democratic ticket in the upcoming election. They have also been handling media bookings for campaign surrogates, closely monitoring their impact on the media.
“The DNC is not something separate,” added another top Biden advisor, speaking on the condition of confidentiality to talk about internal strategy. “It’s the president’s DNC, the president’s list, the president’s people.”
Biden’s close collaboration with other Democratic groups nationwide not only aims to strengthen his own campaign but also to help other Democrats win seats, thereby solidifying his position in a potential second term. Unlike Obama, who was criticized for neglecting the party infrastructure, Biden seeks to leave behind a powerful operation for future leaders.
However, this approach comes with risks, as political operatives point out. Attempting to unify diverse party entities for a decisive victory can lead to management challenges. Each state party and outside group has its own unique priorities, tailored to specific candidates, donors, or regions.
Despite the challenges, party workers in battleground states are already engaging with undecided voters in person, highlighting Biden’s achievements and working towards securing their support.
“There are people on the doors in Michigan not just every weekend but some nights,” said Lavora Barnes, head of the Michigan Democratic Party, adding that these door knockers employ talking points given from party officials in Washington on the Biden administration’s local impact. “We are already here doing the work.”
Likewise, at the Farm Technology Fair in Baraboo, Wisc., cattlemen had the opportunity to snap pictures with cardboard cutouts of President Biden and Vice President Harris. These cutouts were set up at a booth staffed by party members, strategically positioned between exhibits showcasing new livestock feeding machines and fungicide-spraying drones.
“Voters come to the table and they think President Biden and Vice President Harris care about what happens in the agricultural community in Wisconsin,” said Ben Wikler, state party chair. “We are having a conversation.”
All the expenses, which essentially constitute a comprehensive Biden campaign outside the official campaign, can be legally coordinated with Biden and his team, as long as the focus extends beyond his reelection and encompasses broader Democratic goals.
A senior party insider who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly stated, “If you can add ‘and Democrats’ to anything we are talking about, the DNC can pay for it. We are leaning into our strengths.”
Recently, the party released a video that cleverly repurposed words from a speech by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Biden critic, to promote Biden’s election. This video garnered an impressive 42 million views on Twitter and set a record for the DNC with the most views on TikTok in 2023. The video’s creator, Parker Butler, is a DNC employee who previously worked on the Biden campaign in 2020. It was shared on Biden’s official campaign social media accounts.
This strategy somewhat resembles Donald Trump’s approach in his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, where the majority of field organizing and volunteer programs were run through the Republican National Committee. However, in Trump’s case, this stemmed more from his lack of interest or experience in running a sophisticated campaign operation rather than a carefully planned strategy.
Biden’s team sees an advantage in having a unified party apparatus, especially as the Republicans face divisions without an incumbent and an increasingly contentious primary battle between Trump and other contenders for the presidential nomination.
While the Biden campaign will be adding more staff in the upcoming weeks, Rodriguez will be moving from the DNC in Washington to new offices in Wilmington, Del. Certain functions, such as fundraising and creating campaign ads, still need to be handled in-house, and the campaign is expected to grow substantially by next year. Closer to the election, the Biden campaign, under federal law, will benefit from lower rates for television advertising compared to other entities.
However, much of the traditional campaign work will not be conducted within the campaign itself. Data-gathering technology has become highly accessible, reducing the need for extensive teams of data experts. Additionally, many of Biden’s key political advisers plan to maintain their roles as presidential advisers at the White House, enabling them to work on reelection politics in their free time and have easier access to the president.
This divided structure aligns with Biden’s preference for in-person meetings, as his close circle of longtime advisers will be available around him at the White House.
Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, wholeheartedly supports this new approach and encouraged Rodriguez to pursue it when she assumed the role as Biden’s campaign manager.
“These are just wildly different times and places,” Messina said. “My advice was, ‘You have the White House doing your politics, you have the DNC, don’t spend money on the campaign if you don’t have to.’”
During Trump’s 2020 campaign, a divided operation led to problems when the coordination of television spending between the Trump campaign and the RNC broke down after Labor Day. This resulted in crisis meetings and last-minute shifts in spending.
However, Biden’s team managed a similar structure in 2020, with the party funding a significant portion of the state-level campaign, which included 2,800 field workers. Persuasion mail and paid canvassing programs in that election cycle were also funded through state parties, targeting specific groups of voters.
In the current cycle, party leaders plan to play an even more extensive role in the Biden operation. They intend to keep Biden focused on his role as president for as long as possible before transitioning into reelection mode. The hope is to present him as a global statesman while the Republican candidates engage in attacking and undermining each other.
Operating on the assumption that Biden will be the party’s nominee, the DNC has started funding a digital organizing tool called REACH. This tool will encourage volunteers to mobilize their friends, family, and neighbors to vote for Biden. In 2020, a similar technology, the Vote Joe App, was funded and operated by the Biden campaign.
Additionally, the DNC is using an app from Greenfly to organize regular “sync-ups” for their “social ambassadors,” volunteers trained in posting pro-Biden content on social media. The DNC also releases daily video clips and memes for the president’s supporters, covering topics such as economic progress and attacking the abortion policies of potential Republican rivals.
To broaden their coalition, Biden advisers have given their approval to several independent super PAC efforts, as they did in 2020, including Future Forward and American Bridge. This move appears to set up funding streams for advertising campaigns. Priorities USA, another outside group, is preparing a digital effort to support Biden’s reelection.
Key White House figures like Anita Dunn and Jen O’Malley Dillon have been involved in these efforts, further solidifying the connection between the campaign and these independent groups. Former White House aide Katie Petrelius has also joined Future Forward to help raise funds, signaling to Biden donors their support for this initiative.